Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pregnancy Superfood Series - Part 3 - Dark Leafy Greens

Check out other posts in my Pregnancy Superfood series!

Eggs / Liver / Salmon

Pregnancy Superfood: Dark Leafy Greens. Great for mom and baby!

I spent years (about 25 of them to be exact) avoiding salad and refusing to eat pretty much anything green because, and I'm quoting myself here, "they taste like I am eating paper." Well, luckily for me, my tastebuds changed or maybe I just finally learned how to be a grown up, but now I can't get enough of the stuff! In our home, we regularly eat sweet potato hash with kale for breakfast, big ol' salads for lunch and braised greens or Brussels sprouts with dinner. But, enough about me, let's talk about why dark leafy greens are soooo super-duper during pregnancy!

First of all, what are dark leafy greens?

I'm glad you asked! You'll usually see a few different answers floating around if you ask the Googles, but for our purposes I am including a pretty wide range of veggies...pretty much anything that is green and also leafy. :) We're talking lettuces like romaine, arugula and butter lettuce, all of the cruciferous veggies like kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, mustard greens and broccoli and also spinach and Swiss chard. This still isn't a complete list, but should give you a good idea of what to look for.

I could talk about how dark leafy greens are a good source of folate and calcium, but we covered those topics pretty extensively in other parts of the Pregnancy Superfood series. Dark leafys can make up an important part of your daily folate and calcium needs in order to prevent neural tube defects and build strong bones and teeth, respectively, but today we are going to focus on some of the other nutrients you can get from these leafy little gems!

Dark leafy greens are super for lowering mom's risk of preeclampsia

Dark leafy greens are a good source of provitamin A carotenoids, including beta-carotene. Several studies have shown that women with preeclampsia have low levels of carotenoids (1, 2). Preeclampsia, also known as toxemia of pregnancy or pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure), usually develops in the third trimester. Its symptoms include high blood pressure, swelling and weight gain due to water retention, and protein in the urine. This is part of the reason you get to pee in that little cup during your prenatal checkups.

Carotenoids act as antioxidants in the body, helping to stop oxidative damage, and it is believed that oxidative stress or low intake of antioxidant-rich foods may play a role in the development of preeclampsia symptoms. There are many other factors that put women at risk for preeclampsia, but these studies suggest that increasing intake of antioxidant-rich foods like dark leafy greens, may help to prevent this common pregnancy complication.

During pregnancy you need about 770 mcg of vitamin A per day (3).

Dark leafy greens are super for baby's blood clotting

Vitamin K is important for blood clotting, making it effective for the treatment and prevention of bleeding issues and proper wound healing. With an RDA of only 90 mcg per day, it is pretty easy to get enough through diet alone, making deficiency rare. Most newborns, however, are given a vitamin K injection shortly after birth to minimize any deficiency-related risk of uncontrolled bleeding. The bleeding can be internal (gastrointestinal or cerebral) or external (from the nose, umbilical cord stump or possibly after circumcision). Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (or VKDB) is a very rare condition in the U.S., effecting only about .25 to 1.7% of infants in the first week of life who do not receive the shot (4) and even lower numbers for older infants.

Whether you choose the vitamin K shot or oral vitamin K supplementation for your baby or not, ensuring sufficient vitamin K levels by eating foods high in this fat-soluble vitamin during pregnancy can reduce the already small risk that your baby could have bleeding issues, and dark leafy greens are a great dietary source of vitamin K. Just one cup of chopped kale contains 547 mcg of vitamin K, well above your daily needs.

Dark leafy greens are super for baby's immune system

You know how everyone is always telling you to drink orange juice when you have a cold for the vitamin C boost? Well, oranges aren't the only source of vitamin C...far from it, in fact. One orange contains about 64 mg of vitamin C, while one cup of cooked Brussels sprouts contains about 97 mg! The RDA during pregnancy is only 85 mg per day so just one little cup of Brussels sprouts will pretty much get you there.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and also contributes to the proper functioning of white blood cells, thereby aiding in proper immune function and wound healing. Your body doesn't store vitamin C so it is important to get some into your diet each day and dark leafy greens are a fantastic way to serve up this daily boost to your baby's (and your) immunity.

Do you get your leafy greens in every day? 

There are a bunch of easy ways, outside of the ones I described at the beginning of this post. You can even blend kale or spinach into a smoothie or make "green eggs" by blending spinach or kale with your eggs before scrambling. Romaine and butter lettuce leaves make great wraps as an alternative to sandwich bread, too. Here's to a healthy pregnancy!

Brussels Sprouts image courtesy of Bill Longshaw at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Full of Vegetables image courtesy of happykanppy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.